This page contains some general guidelines about wikidebates.
Neutral point of view edit
Wikidebates are organized compilations of arguments surrounding an issue. Therefore, try to add and improve arguments on both sides of the issue. Being neutral or unbiased implies considering both sides and being open to change your mind if the arguments or evidence require it. You should be willing, almost eager, to change your mind, in order to judge opposite arguments more objectively. Who knows, you may even learn something.
The objective of a debate should be to establish truth when the issue at hand is a matter of fact, or facilitate compromise when there are conflicting interests, and not merely to practice rhetoric or promote a given issue (in other words, we should aim for dialectic rather than eristic).
Arguments belong to all edit
Unlike other debate systems, wikidebates are not aggregates of posts by different users, but a collaborative effort to compile and organize all arguments on a given issue. Therefore:
- Don't sign your arguments – Signing arguments discourages others from improving them. The original author can always be traced back from the history of the debate.
- Avoid pronouns – Avoid words like 'I', 'you', 'me', 'we', etc. No arguments are 'yours' or 'his'. There are no sides here, we're all working together, collaborating.
- Don't quote classic arguments verbatim – Instead rewrite them in your own words (improving brevity, clarity and order, for example) and give credit to the original source or author using a reference or in the edit summary. When an argument is quoted directly, any improvements become distortions. But the point of a wiki is to be able to improve on the work of others. If there is a better way to present an argument, then respect for the original shouldn't be an obstacle. We're not trying to reach historical accuracy here.
- Don't be afraid to reply to yourself – If you can think of an argument, an objection to it, an objection to the objection, etc., then go ahead and add them all. Other readers may have the same concerns and will appreciate it.
Brevity, clarity and order edit
Wikidebates can easily become long and chaotic, making them less likely to be read and improved upon. Therefore, we should strive to keep them as brief, clear and organized as possible.
- Make every word count – Ask yourself what's the essence of the argument and state it concisely. Don't digress and always look for ways to say the same using less words.
- Use footnotes – If an argument relies on many premises, and each premise needs proof, don't include the proof inline. Instead, use footnotes to link to the works that prove your premise.
- Merge equivalent arguments – If two arguments are essentially the same, merge them together into one, keeping the best of each.
- Split distinct arguments – If one argument is essentially two, split them apart. Keeping them separate will enrich the debate, allow others to object to each argument independently and prevent unnecessary confusion.
- Keep it flat – When a branch grows, it's often possible to reformulate an argument so that some objection doesn't apply anymore (example). If someone posts an objection pointing out a flaw in an argument, try to fix the flaw and remove the objection, rather than answering the objection or posting another argument without the flaw. For instance, if someone objects to an argument exploiting an ambiguity, don't object saying that what the argument "really" means is something different from what it says. Instead, rewrite or clarify the argument and remove the objection as no longer relevant. If, say, in the abortion debate, someone says "Abortion sometimes occurs naturally, and we shouldn't punish people for natural occurrences", then don't object saying "We meant induced abortion". Instead, clarify it in the debate description and remove the argument as being no longer relevant. This improves the overall quality of the debate while shortening its length and complexity.
- Define the key terms – Sometimes people completely agree regarding the facts of the matter, but use different words to describe it, so they disagree nominally and delve into fruitless debate. For example, people may agree as to what computers can and can't do, but some may consider that being able to do certain things amounts to "intelligence", while the others do not. Thus, they will disagree as to whether computers are intelligent or not, but only because they don't agree in the use of the word "intelligence", not about what computers can do. So the debate is no longer about computers, but about words. If you recognize such a disagreement about words, try to define them in the description of the debate or relevant section, and then update or delete any misguided arguments.
How to argue effectively edit
- Produce sound arguments – The best way to argue is with sound arguments. An argument is sound when the premises are (a) all true, (b) imply the conclusion, and (c) don't assume what must be proven.
- Question the soundness of other arguments – Consequently, the best way to object is to produce sound arguments showing that a given argument isn't sound, meaning that its premises are (a) not all true, (b) don't imply the conclusion, or (c) assume what must be proven.
- Refer to the evidence – Referring to the evidence is the best way to avoid objections requesting evidence. Refer to the evidence using footnotes to keep arguments brief, clear and organized.